A trial by combat.
While the title of this is week’s Episode tells you all you need to know in terms of what to expect narratively-speaking, to focus only on the brutal one-on-one battle that occurs between Oberyn “The Viper” Martell and Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane would be doing the rest of Season Four’s eighth hour a grave disservice. Yes, the two duel to the death in an adequately shot and cut bit of medieval warfare (more on this in a minute), but the rest of “The Mountain and the Viper” is made up of thrilling moments of dogged birth and re-birth. Not only does Sansa Stark get to come into her own and finally use her family name to actually improve her status, but Ramsay Snow earns the moniker of his father and “Reek” is able to slip back into the skin of Theon Greyjoy, even if for a chilling moment of murderous complicity. Unfortunately, not all ends well for some of our favorites, as Episode Eight contains yet another grisly, shocking moment sure to upset even those who knew it was coming.
In Molestown, a bunch of slimy tavern-dwellers gather to burp out their favorite songs, all while Gilly folds laundry and tends to her baby. After being momentarily harassed by a skanky beer wench, a muted war signal alerts the mother to an impending raid on the village. The Wildling destruction squad arrives, as Ygritte leads the pillaging. Yet when Jon Snow’s ex stumbles upon Gilly and her baby, she spares them as blood rains from the ceiling above.
At Castle Black, Samwell is distraught with guilt, blaming himself for Gilly’s assumed death (note: you did leave her in a brothel, dude). His brothers in black point out that the girl has survived much, much worse and suddenly there is a glimmer of hope for the hapless fat man.
Across the sea in Meereen, Missandei catches Grey Worm sneaking a peek of her nude form as she bathes in the river. Later,Daenerys asks Missi if she was ever curious if the slave boys were “cut completely” upon birth. Missandei admits to being curious and, in the throne room later, tells the peeping protector that she doesn’t mind that he saw her. Grey Worm explains he’s not bitter about being castrated, as it would have set him on a different path. The sexual tension between the two mounts…but will it ever truly amount to anything?
Next we drift to the overcast skies of Moat Cailin, where Theon enters the key Northern stronghold bearing his own name. Acting as “himself”, Theon convinces the Masters of the Moat to open the castle and surrender, explaining that Ramsay will spare their lives if they do. But Ramsay (being the evil shit that he is) betrays both his pet and the inhabitants of the Moat — torturing, flaying and ultimately killing them all. Theon has had to endure some truly horrible moments during both this and last Season, but this might actually be the darkest, as he accepts his role in these men’s deaths with a dead-eyed nonchalance that is truly frightening. What we’re witnessing is the death of a soul, and it’s horrific.
In the Eyrie, Littlefinger finds that he has some explaining to do in regards to Lysa’s death. But it ends up being Sansa who talks them out of the interrogation room, telling the truth about her identity while only slightly fudging the reality of Crazy Aunt Lysa’s jealous possessive streak when it came to Uncle Petyr (OK…so changing “murder” to “suicide” is more than “slightly fudging”). Baelish is not only relieved, but taken aback when Sansa then flirts with him, donning an all black outfit, a little cleavage and a brand new hair color. Just as her sister is taking killing lessons from the Hound, the Stark girl is finally mastering the ropes of deception, refusing to be a tortured plaything any longer.
Speaking of Arya, we only get a glimpse of her this week, as she and her “traveling companion” approach the Eyrie. They announce themselves only to find news of Lysa’s death, which brings a cackle from the tiny girl. Are we ever going to see the two sisters enter the same room together? And if we do, will this “Song of Ice and Fire” allow us the moment of catharsis before pulling the emotional rug out from under our feet (as is the George R.R. Martin way)?
Back in Meereen, we’re treated to another soul-crushing moment, as Dany casts Ser Jorah out of her kingdom. A mysterious piece of parchment has arrived and reveals that Ser Jorah was once on the Lannister payroll as a spy. Ser Barristan is kind enough to give Jorah a heads up about the scroll, but won’t let him talk to his queen alone — “you’ll never be alone with her again.” In one of the most devastatingly sad scenes the Series has ever seen, Jorah is told to pack his bags and hit the road by sunup or face execution for this past crime. It’s heart-wrenching, as Jorah begs for forgiveness and professes his love. But it’s too late. The damage has been done and the breakup seems permanent.
Finally, it’s time to see Tyrion Lannister’s fate decided. As a crowd gathers in King’s Landing at a strangely small square (the CGI and show’s budget falters at delivering scope to this key scene), they’re treated to a brutal battle between “The Viper” and “The Mountain”. As he dances about, taunting Gregor that he is going to make him confess to the rape and murder of his sister, Prince Oberyn stabs and filets the monstrous man. But just as it seems like he has delivered the deathblow, Gregor pulls a Michael Myers and gets the upper hand on The Viper, crushing his skull with his bare hands. It’s a sickening moment that leaves Tyrion sentenced to death and the audience wondering if we’ll ever get a hero that won’t be snatched away from us.
All told, “The Mountain and the Viper” is another winner, even if the action scenes range between being staged in a rather clumsy matter (that Wilding raid is damn near incoherent) to shockingly pedestrian (for all of the acrobatics on display, the wide-medium-wide compositions director Alex Graves employs during the one-on-one match are somewhat lifeless). There are two hours left in Season Four and something tells me Oberyn’s death won’t the last time we get punched in the head before it all comes to a close.